Friday, November 20, 2009

Gobble, Gobble: TSA Helpful Holiday Travel Tips

Can you believe it? It’s that time of year again where turkeys head for the hills and people head for the airports. It’s the busiest travel time of the year and a time when people who rarely fly, or have never flown, take to the skies, so we wanted to provide some clarification and tips for those who might come to the blog looking for some information.

Here’s some guidance related to the most common questions we’ve been hearing lately. Please remember that each time our officers have to search a bag or a person, the line slows down.

The 4-1-1 on 3-1-1 (Liquids, Gels & Aerosols): Let me start by saying this. If you’re checking a bag, make it easy on yourself and just put your liquids in your checked luggage. That way, you don’t have to worry about 3-1-1. I know that suggestion doesn’t work for everybody. Some liquids are essential and some of you understandably would not like to pay to check your luggage. If you’d rather take liquids in your carry-on, please continue reading…

3-1-1 is the name for our liquid policy. You can read here for more details, but here is the gist of 3-1-1… Each passenger is allowed to take one clear quart-sized sealable bag and fill it with as many liquids in 3.4 oz or less sized containers that will fit, while still being able to seal the bag. Basically, don’t stuff it to the point where it won’t close.

Make sure you take the bag out of your carry-on prior to sending it through the X-ray, or our officers may have to search your bag.

If you have liquids, aerosols, or gels that are used for medical purposes, they do not need to adhere to our 3-1-1 policies and do not have to be placed in a bag. You may be asked to go through a TSA Family Lane (see below) so we can expedite the screening process. The liquids, gels and aerosols will need to be removed from your bags.

Answers to common questions: Stick deodorant is not limited to 3.4 oz or less, but gel or spray deodorant is. Also, any liquid makeup such as eyeliner should be placed in the baggie. That goes for perfume as well. Powder makeup is fine.

Family Lanes: Frequent flyers hate it when they’re in line behind a family, and guess what… families hate it when the frequent flyer is behind them tapping their foot and sighing. That’s why we created Family Lanes. They’re designed to let families take their time and ask questions without feeling rushed by the experienced frequent flyers who can zip through a checkpoint in no time. Also, as stated earlier, anybody carrying medically necessary liquids, aerosols and gels in excess of 3.4 oz may be directed to a Family Lane.

Foods: Pies are permitted, but they are subject to additional screening if our officers see any anomalies. (Additional screening of pies does not include our officers tasting the pie, no matter what they tell you…) Cakes, bread, donuts, turkeys, etc. are all permitted. If it’s a live turkey, you might want to have a word with the airline. Here is a list of items that should be placed in your checked bags or shipped: cranberry sauce, creamy dips and spreads (cheeses, peanut butter, etc.), gift baskets with food items (salsa, jams and salad dressings), gravy (mmm gravy), jams, jellies, maple syrup, oils and vinegars, sauces, soups, wine, liquor and beer.

Gifts: Wrapped gifts may need to be unwrapped. If there’s something in the gift that needs to be inspected, we have to open it. Our officers try their best not to mangle the gift wrap, but it’s not a guarantee and it also slows down the line for everybody else when we have to do this. It is suggested that you wrap the presents when you arrive at your destination. You also have the option of shipping the items as well.

Snow Globes: We are not in cahoots with the Heat Miser, but snow globes are not permitted in your carry-on luggage. They are sealed containers full of liquid that would have to be opened and destroyed to test. We’re not in the business of busting snow globes, so we suggest you place them in your checked baggage or mail them ahead of time

ID & Boarding Pass Checking & Secure Flight: As you approach a TSA checkpoint, you will see an officer checking IDs and boarding passes. Please have your acceptable ID and boarding pass out and ready to present to our officer. If your ID is in a plastic sheath or other type of holder, it will need to be removed so our officers can properly inspect your IDs. By having your ID and boarding pass out and ready, you’ll help move the line along faster. The several seconds it takes to get your ID and boarding pass out might not seem like much time, but it really adds up when you’ve got people in line behind you.

Also, folks have had questions about the Secure Flight program and whether the name on your ticket has to match the name on your ID. The Secure Flight watch-list matching process occurs before a passenger even gets to the airport so if you get a boarding pass, the Secure Flight watch-list matching process is done. In other words, you are clear once you get that pass.

If you have lost or forgotten your ID, you will still be permitted to fly as long as you help us verify you are who you say you are by answering a few questions for us.

Inconsistencies: You may notice your screening experience at one airport doesn’t match the experience of another airport. We realize this happens, and some of it is intentional. While it can be a little confusing for our passengers, it also makes things unpredictable for those who might wish to do us harm. Our officers also can use their discretion in different scenarios that allows them to use common sense and not abide by a checklist mentality that can be studied and defeated by those who wish to do us harm.

Shoes on Belt: We recommend you place your shoes on the X-ray belt as opposed to placing them in a bin. Why? It keeps the bins from getting too cluttered and allows our officers to get a better look at items to ensure prohibited items do not get on the plane. It also speeds things up when they get a better view and don't have to stop the X-ray belt for searches.

The best piece of advice I could give a traveler is to arrive early if you have the time. No matter what happens, (aside from a flight being cancelled) if you get to the airport early, you should be fine. Worst case scenario is you’ll have some time to kill while you wait on your flight.

For any pilgrims who might be flying, be sure not to bring your muskets through the checkpoint and clothing with large buckles is discouraged as it will most likely alarm the walk through metal detector.

Is this all a bit too much to remember? Print out this handy dandy checklist (PDF) so you don’t forget anything.

For a complete rundown, check out our “What to Know before You Go” blog post. It has everything broken down by category.

Also, we’re going to be Tweeting a TSA Holiday Travel Tip every day, so follow us on Twitter @tsablogteam for travel tips, blog post announcements, and other useful information.


Blogger Bob

TSA Blog Team

Monday, November 16, 2009

Holiday Travel Refresher: What if I Lose or Forget My ID?

It’s been a while since we talked about IDs and what happens if you lose or forget your ID on the way to the airport. With the busiest travel time of the year quickly approaching, I thought it would be wise to do a quick refresher on the subject.

So, what if you show up at a TSA checkpoint and you can’t find your ID? Does that mean you won’t fly? Nope… You’ll still be able to fly as long as you provide us with some information that will help us determine you are who you say you are. Verifying the identity of people coming through checkpoints is an important part of security, just as vetting passenger names against the No Fly and Selectee lists.

Using the information you provide, if we can confirm your identity, you’ll be cleared to go through security, and you may or may not have to go through some additional screening. If we can’t confirm your identity with the information you provide or you’re not willing to provide us with the information to help us make a determination, you may not be able to fly.

You can find a list of acceptable IDs here.

Also, prior to the new ID rules rolling out last year, there were tons of questions, and we addressed the questions with several blog posts you can review here:

- 8.13.2008 You won’t be put on a TSA “List” if you forget Your ID
- 8.11.2008 Furthering the Dialogue on IDs
- 7.03.2008 Yet Another ID Post...With Some Answers to Your Questions
- 7.02.2008 ID Q&A
- 6.27.2008 ID Update and Word on the Blog
- 6.23.2008 New ID Requirements: The First 48
- 6.20.2008 New ID Requirements Begin Tomorrow
- 6.11.2008 Why is ID Important for Security?

Blogger Bob

TSA Blog Team

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Veterans Day: Thank You

We sleep soundly in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm." - Winston Churchill

Veterans Day is a time to remind our nation to reflect on all of the people who served and sacrificed as members of the United States military and thank them for that service. From the battles of Lexington and Concord to the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, this nation has always had a strong core of people who were willing to serve, fight, and sometimes die for their country and that is truly honorable.
TSA has a strong core of Veterans who have come to TSA to continue to serve and protect their country- in a different capacity. Over 15,000 of our employees are Veterans and over 3,000 employees are serving in the military reserves. Many are currently deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq.

Whether these dedicated men and women served in a kitchen or a foxhole - or were an expert with an M-16 or a Clarinet - their selfless service to our country is something to appreciate and recognize - today and every day.

So, on behalf of TSA, I would like to extend a sincere thank you to all of our nation’s Veterans.

Blogger Bob

TSA Blog Team

TSA Stops Medical Supplies for Cape Verde?

Over the weekend, an article ran stating that TSA Officers in Boston had stopped medical supplies from traveling in checked baggage to Cape Verde. The article states the items confiscated included Tylenol, vitamin C, mosquito repellents, hand sanitizers and rubbing alcohol.

TSA did prevent most of the insect repellant, but everything else was permitted. Why the repellant? Well…

FAA regulations state that Personal Care Items containing hazardous materials (e.g., flammable perfume, aerosols) totaling no more than 70 ounces may be carried on board. Contents of each container may not exceed 16 fluid ounces.

The repellant was in 6.5oz containers (approx), and most bags contained more than the limit of 10 or 11 cans ranging from 2-128 cans over the limit. Most bags were large suitcase bags completely full of just bug spray.

In cases such as these, TSA is required to return the entire bag (s) to the airline so they can remove the hazmat. In this case, due to the high volume of items, TSA Boston worked with air TACV representatives in the baggage screening location to ensure the 70oz rule was followed for each bag.

Our officers followed the proper protocol spelled out by the FAA and included in our SOPs. If anybody else plans to take items such as insect repellent to Cape Verde to help with the Dengue fever, it is highly recommended an alternate shipping method is found so the items will be permitted. Our thoughts go out to the people of Cape Verde.

***Update 11/12/09***

FORCV updated their web page to correct inaccuracies.


Blogger Bob

TSA Blog Team

Friday, November 6, 2009

Response to: “Oops: Backscatter X-ray machines tear apart DNA"

This article has been receiving quite a bit of attention and it’s leading people to believe the Backscatter Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) used by TSA emits terahertz radiation. Recent studies are showing that terahertz radiation may “unzip double-stranded DNA, creating bubbles in the double strand that could significantly interfere with processes such as gene expression and DNA replication.”

(I know… who knew that your DNA could be unzipped? Hey buddy, your barn door’s open!!!)

I forwarded the article around to a few subject matter experts here at TSA and was provided with some interesting information:

“TSA has not tested nor procured any terahertz AIT systems.”

That sentence should sum it up for most of our readers, but for those who like to get into the weeds, here is some more interesting information that was given to me from the fine folks at the Office of Security Technology (OST):

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has assessed multiple types of AIT systems including X-ray backscatter and millimeter wave. Both offer safe and effective whole body screening for weapons and explosives concealed on a person’s body. Backscatter X-ray technology uses X-rays that penetrate clothing, but not skin, to create an image. Millimeter wave technology uses sensors to collect millimeter wave energy to measure the difference in radiated energy relative to each object against a common background (the human body produces these signatures in typical screening applications) to construct a composite image.

Backscatter - Relies on a narrow, low intensity X-ray beam scanned over the body’s surface at high speed that is reflected back from the body and other objects placed or carried on the body, where it is converted into a computer image of the subject and displayed on a remote monitor. For comparison purposes, the X-ray dose received from the backscatter system is equivalent to the radiation received in two minutes of airplane flight at altitude (0.003* millirem by backscatter (2 scans) compared to .0552 millirem for two minutes of flight). Newer technologies require less scanning time, reducing individual X-ray exposure to .002 millirem for the entire process. The backscatter AIT meets and exceeds the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) standard for personnel security screening systems using X-rays.

Millimeter Wave - Uses non-ionizing radio frequency energy in the millimeter wave spectrum to generate an image based on the energy reflected from the body. The frequency range for millimeter wave technology exists in the range between 30-300 gigahertz. The three-dimensional image of the body is displayed on a remote monitor for analysis. The energy projected by the system is 10,000 times less than a cell phone transmission (.00000597 mW/cm2 for millimeter wave technology compared to 37.5 mW/cm2 for a cellphone).

Other Safety Information

“TSA security screening technologies are required to meet consensus standards, such as those issued by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), as well as regulatory requirements such as those issued by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Our systems are independently tested as well by such laboratories as Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) and the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) and FDA. We also apply an aggressive maintenance program to ensure that these systems continue to meet these performance standards. Additionally, TSA Occupational Safety Health and Environment (OSHE) is an active participant in our project integrated project teams. TSA OSHE assists in the development and validation of technology safety requirements. We also conduct safety evaluations as part of our laboratory, TSA Systems Integration Facility (TSIF), operational and site acceptance testing procedures.”

TSA tells its employees, namely Transportation Security Officers (TSOs), about the safety of advanced imaging technology machines, including the radiation exposure, during training on the equipment. In addition, TSA’s Office of Occupational Safety Health and Environment has individuals who work directly with TSOs to communicate safety information about operating the equipment. Information is available to TSOs through the OSHE Web site and employees can contact members of OSHE directly with questions.

*.04 was posted in error. The corrrect number was added. 0.003 millirem. Edited on 1/5/10


Blogger Bob

TSA Blog Team

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Response to "TSA Takes Big Gulp over Britney"

A video was posted earlier today by a popular celebrity tabloid showing Britney Spears traveling through airport security at LAX with a large drink cup.

We checked with the airport and I'm happy to report there's nothing to see here.

Her cup had a few ice chips in it, not liquid. Ice is a solid. Therefore, ice is permitted through the checkpoint, as long as it's screened by the X-ray (Which it was).

I should also add that Ms. Spears did have a bottle of liquid in her purse which was identified on the X-ray and voluntarily surrendered at the checkpoint.

One thing to remember when bringing ice through the checkpoint: it can't be partially melted. It has to be just the ice with no liquid at the bottom.

While I'm at it, I'll take this opportunity to answer a common question. Yes, empty bottles and cups are also allowed through the checkpoint.

*** Update: 11-4-09 ***
After reading the incoming comments this morning on our blog, it was very apparent that we had left some inaccurate information on the web page:

"Frozen gels/liquids are permitted if required to cool medical and infant/child exemptions. Frozen gels/liquids for any other purpose are not permitted."

This information has recently changed and should have been updated. An update has been posted in its place.

If you encounter any problems, please contact a TSA Customer Support Manager by using the Got Feedback? program.

***Update 11/6/2009***

Clarification on Frozen Liquids… and Britney

Earlier this week, Britney Spears came through a checkpoint at LAX. The paparazzi were there taking pictures and presumed they landed a big story when they saw what they thought was TSA giving Ms. Spears the “celebrity treatment.” They presumed the cup in her hand was a full beverage. It was also assumed that we let Ms. Spears through the checkpoint with her beverage instead of prohibiting it, which led to allegations of TSA just letting her slide by.

What really happened was Ms. Spears had a cup with a few ice chips. Ice and other frozen solid liquids are permitted as long as they’re frozen solid and X-ray screened.

So, why are frozen solidified items permitted when they’re eventually going to melt once the passenger is in the gate area or on their flight? Good question. It is highly improbable that the explosives TSA is concerned about could be frozen by traditional means. The key word here is frozen. Not thawing. Not a slush or slurry. Frozen solid.

I’ve read comments saying things similar to “Huh, but you wouldn’t let me bring my [Insert Frozen Item Here] before… what’s the deal?” As a result of many questions from our officers on the front lines, we previously clarified the treatment of solidified liquids through internal processes.

So, while something may have been prohibited by an officer in the past, it may not be now. Please remember that even permissible items get a closer look at times, so don’t be surprised if we take a closer look. So you might want to think twice before going overboard and freezing your entire pantry or medicine cabinet and packing it in your carry-on.

Another question that comes up is “Why not just ban all liquids?” Another great question… I just answered this recently, so excuse me while I cut and paste. At first, all liquids were banned. This wasn’t sustainable long term. People have liquid medications and mothers need to travel with breast milk and formula, etc. So, using the intelligence at hand, it was determined how much liquid could be allowed on planes by a passenger so that we could balance security with convenience. Hence 3-1-1… TSA is now working on technology that will hopefully bring an end to it – so that liquids could be screened along with everything else in your bag – and no little plastic baggie. The day that technology allows liquid to stay in your bags, our HQ will look like a vintage victory parade. Tickertape will be streaming out of our windows and bands will be marching around the building.

You have to keep in mind that these procedures were put in place to as an effective measure until the necessary technology can be deployed. 3-1-1 was never intended to be the perfect permanent fix. There is still a lot of work to be done on this and we are as disappointed as you are that the technologists have not been able to find solutions as quickly as we had hoped. Remember that 3-1-1 is in use throughout most of the world and all of our counterparts are working on a solution as well.

Now back to Britney…

Some of you are saying our officers were star struck and gave Ms. Spears special treatment and didn’t even X-ray her bags. First off, this is LAX. Our officers are pretty accustomed to screening celebrities, so I doubt they get star struck. Secondly, if you watch the TMZ video, you’ll notice that her purse is brought over first by a TSO.

There ‘s an opening on all of our X-rays that is next to the X-ray operator and allows a bag search officer to grab the bag as it comes out of the X-ray. This prevents bags that need inspected from getting to the passenger and causing a security breach. That opening is not visible on the TMZ video, but here is a picture.

OK, when the purse is brought to her, watch her expression. You’ll see an “Oops I did it Again” expression as she is informed that she has a bottle of perfume in her purse. (Which she voluntarily surrenders) Next you’ll see an officer bring the bin to her with the cup in it. Notice the officer to the left looking over the bin to inspect it. That’s when it was confirmed that there were just a few ice chips in her cup. (After it had already gone through the X-ray) There is no straw and you can clearly see her get an ice cube out of the cup and not a drink.

Blogger Bob

TSA Blog Team